Chip Bair has owned Colorado pizzeria Beau Jo’s for 37 years. When he bought a tiny little pizza place on a side street in Idaho Springs, CO, $30 was a big day. He did everything from sleeping on the restaurant floor to avoid having to pay for an apartment, to recycling the paper from the printing business behind his restaurant for gas money.
All of the sacrifices paid off because Beau Jo’s is now legendary among Colorado outdoor enthusiasts and has eight locations. Chip is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off of his back. He makes awesome pizzas, has happy employees and customers and has learned more than a few lessons over the years. Here’s what he had to say about why he treats employees so well…
“People are probably the biggest asset you have. You have the concept, and then your people come directly thereafter, or parallel, or whatever.
I guess I’m kind of a hippy from the ‘60s or ‘70s, and I’ve always tried to look at things with a rosy outlook and tried to do what’s right by the company and its employees. We have some waitresses whose mothers had worked for me. Most of our managers have been with us for 12 to 15 years. The store that opened in South Dakota was opened by a manager that started working for us in the mid ‘80s. She and her husband decided they wanted to move up to Rapid City, and she wanted to continue with our business. So we helped set her up, and she’s really happy up there and doing a really good job with it. She’d been with us for a really long time, and knew what we were doing and what we were about.
We do things for our employees such as having paid vacations, even for our dishwashers. We have annual ski passes that are available for our staff to use. We have good health insurance for our management staff. We used to pay all of it for the whole family, up until the last several years. We still try to do the vast majority of it, but that gets harder and harder all of the time.
The restaurant industry tends to beat management staff up a lot. Typically in chain restaurants, managers will work 60 to 80 hours per week. Our managers work typically 40 to 45 hours per week. We might not pay them what they could make at restaurants where they’d work 80 hours per week, but we’ve always felt that there needs to be a balance between working and your life. So we’ve always had our managers working a 45 hour week, and that’s one reason why we retain them.
We deal with them as humans and equals, and look for input. I’ve seen people go in and berate their employees, and that’s just not the way we are. We believe in the family and the strength of it. We try to follow through with that with the things that we do for our employees.
We pay our employees weekly. Most people pay every other week or whatever. We pay weekly, and that makes it a little bit easier for them. We have a good liberal meal policy, and we try to have a good positive work environment for people.”
Chip goes out of his way to treat his team with respect, and it has paid off immensely. Isn’t it funny how business owners who do things with something other than today’s bottom line in mind almost always wind up building successful, enduring businesses?